Fear & Flight

There is a magical place in Guatemala called Lake Atitlan. I dream about it often. I close my eyes and recall every visit. I locked the sound of the water slapping against the dock in my heart and I pull it out when I need to summon the calm.

When I moved down south, I was fortunate to make friends quickly. The principal of the school where I worked took a liking to me and immediately invited me on excursions with her and the chaplain of the school. The three of us would squeeze in the front of her truck and traipse off to the Lake, the spa retreat, or the natural hot springs. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was until many months into my first year and a coworker, who was also new, complained about how she had never been to any of the cool places in our city. I found it odd, but then realized that those expeditions would be difficult without access to a car. The chicken buses are not an experience that most would want to navigate alone.

Because of all that resulted over the course of the two years I lived there and how estranged I became from those two friends, the early memories slip my mind, but some days, they come back to me and I smile. Our first weekend at the lake, we stayed at the principal’s favorite hotel, where I sent or visited with all of my friends when they came down from the States. The first night, we sat on the deck outside our hotel room, drank wine, and shared our hopes, dreams, and fears. The next morning, we went down to the dock to go kayaking.

I was so excited skipping down the steps to the water, but as soon I set foot on the wobbly dock, fear gripped my chest. I did not grow up around water and I had only recently taken an advanced beginner’s swimming class. I had passed the swim test, but was still terrified of deep water. A pool is one thing, but I spaz out when I cannot see the bottom.

“Hey,” I called to my friends, trying to downplay my rising anxiety, “does anyone want to take a double kayak with me?”

The chaplain gave me a pitying smile and tried to find a polite way to say no. The principal shook her head no with ease. “Nah, I want to control my own destiny today.”

That is still one of the best responses to anything that I have heard in my life. I loved her for saying that so much, that I couldn’t even be hurt or annoyed with how quickly she rejected my fear. But oh, I was still scared. Nevertheless, I eased myself down in the kayak with the assistance of the aide. The other two were already in their kayaks and pushing off from the dock. I was slow in moving away. They headed towards the center of the lake while I looked longingly at the shore. Must we go that far in?

My fear must have been radiating across the water because the principal turned around, looked deeply in my eyes, and said, “I will save you.”

It is still entirely baffling to me how much comfort I took from her words. My friend is skinny. So skinny that when she hugs me, she curves her back, and I run my fingers up her spine, touching each vertebrae like I am picking out notes on a saxophone. I am not skinny. I have not been anywhere near her size since my age was in the single digits. How in the devil I thought this girl would be able to drag me out of my kayak and carry me to shore if I capsized is beyond me. All I know is that Philippians 4:7 “peace that surpasses all understanding” came over me and all was well with my soul. I smiled and paddled off vigorously after them (they were still going twice my speed, slicing through the water light years ahead of me, but for my skill level, I was moving.)

Kayaking is such an incredible experience. I feel like I am just sitting on the water, which of course, makes this child of the Bible Belt think about Peter walking out to meet Jesus. When we were so far from the shore as to make me feel completely unmoored, I rested my oar across my lap and just sat there. All around, there were mountains and there I was, a tiny speck in the center of this vast beauty. I started singing the vamp of “Oceans” by Hillsong over and over again:

Spirit, lead me when my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

If there exists one moment that could serve as a metaphor for my entire existence, it would be this day out there on Lake Atitlan. I do things like that all of time – take leaps of faith and jump off into the unknown. Plunging into the abyss makes me feel alive. I see myself, arms flung out, my hands stretching to the sky as a line from Ntozake Shange’s chorepoem rings in my ears. All the gods comin into me/Laying me open to myself.

My impulsive temperament has been known to shock,  to amuse, and to confuse those around me to varying degrees. Occasionally, it has been a source of frustration. A couple of years ago, I spent a few days visiting my friend’s parents on my way to attend a wedding. My friend’s mom shared with me how my lackadaisical approach to applying for jobs the year before had stressed my friend. He had complained to his mom that my method was problematic and what’s worse, if anyone else has been behaving similarly, I would have chastised them. His mother logically asked, “So then why doesn’t someone chastise Andrea?” to which he replied, “Because it keeps working out for her! Life keeps teaching her the wrong lessons!”

I laughed so hard hearing that. First, I love that my friend cares so much and was so agitated that he had to vent to his mother. Also, I can appreciate how erratic my behavior must appear from the outside. I am in this body and I can’t always make sense of my choices. It makes it difficult to explain myself to others and I don’t even bother anymore. It takes so much to simply engage in the craziness that calls me; I have no energy left over to justify my actions.

But if appears as if I am always at peace with my choices and am casually skipping through the world with no regards for tomorrow, you can be certain that it is a facade. I often feel at odds with my own nature. My choices have cost me stability and consistency. I’m alone a lot and sometimes, the loneliness seems more than I can bear. I resent that twelve years into my adulthood, I have yet to procure a permanent home for myself and I worry that there is a deficiency in me that renders me incapable of creating one. What if I wander for the rest of my life?

My ace friend tries to soothe my anxiety. She tells me that if I become a “hippie loon of a burden” on everybody’s life, she will let me know, so in the meantime, just enjoy the journey. I try to let myself be comforted by the life buoy she promises to extend, but I fear the slope is more slippery than she imagines. The change won’t announce itself. One day, I will just be out to sea, too far gone to be rescued.

This is the story I tell myself. The fear that undergirds all the joy I feel at being my most authentic self. When I moved to Guatemala, I did so with a caveat: “Ok Andrea, you are 27. I’m going to let you do this for a couple of years, but you have got to get this wandering out of your system. When 30 arrives, we will be settled and walking purposefully down whatever path we are on at the time.”

I will be thirty come November and this past year back in the States has been anxiety-ridden attempt to fulfill that promise to myself. I failed. The fall was spent in a mad dash against time. I felt like I was playing a desperate game of musical chairs. When the music stopped, I didn’t want it to find me without a seat of certainty. I tried to commit to life in Boston and my job and what I had simply because I had it. A bird in a hand is better than 20 in the bush as the old adage goes. But, I was unhappy and unfulfilled. I tried to ignore it, so tired was I of falling prey to my own desires. Why can’t I just be a responsible adult who is ruled by security more than passion? The other day, a friend told me that she thinks my superpower is that I don’t fear poverty. Help, Blessed Savior!

Last week, I fell into a pit of despair about my future. I had no idea how I was going to be able to pay my bills for the remainder of the summer. In addition, I am moving to Los Angeles at the end of August to pursue a career in writing for television. I don’t know if I will be accepted to any of the programs I applied to and even if I get my foot in the door, I still need to find a regular job and a place to live and have zero inklings about how I will get those things done. Just question marks all over the place. I started to pray, but I could not find the words. Finally, I just called out, “Lord, are you pleased with me? Because sometimes I think you are, but right now, standing in the cold light of my choices, I don’t see how you could be.”

When I graduated from law school, my little sister gave me a canvas that she painted. She had drawn one girl at four different periods in her life. It was me, graduating from kindergarten, graduating from high school, graduating from college, and finally college. When she handed it to me, my older sister pointed at the girl in the master’s robe. “Notice how she drew her shoulders. That girl’s posture is better than the rest. It’s because you stand up straighter these days.” On the back of the canvas, my sister had written Proverbs 31:25 around the perimeter because she said whenever she hears it, she thinks of me: a girl who “laughs with no fear of the future.”

Oh that I could harness the pride I felt standing between my sisters in that moment and hold fast to it. I wish I always felt like the confident woman described in that verse, but I don’t. Too often, I feel like an overgrown child who is spiraling out of control.

But then, the moment passes and I press forward. The situation with rent worked out. I’m going to make it through the summer. And in the midst of the darkness that was last week, I received an unexpected outpouring of love from a most random assortment of people. It was just what I needed to pick myself up off the ground. I’m feeling good again and the little mischievous girl that lives in me has started to dance once more.

I don’t know what life holds for me after August 31st, but I am certain that it will all come together for my good. I cannot explain why I feel so certain. I just know there is something beautiful out there waiting for me.

I am currently reading the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown and in his protagonist, I have discovered another kindred spirit. I am still reading and still processing my feelings, so a thorough analysis will have to come another day. But, in the second book, on his way into battle, he says,

“All the love I’ve earned and lost and still wish to live for, I let burn in me.”

Reading those words, I felt seen. There is something infinitely childlike about me and it propels me through this life. I am an eternal optimist about the future. My best days are always ahead. So many journeys still to take and so many people to meet, to love, and to cherish. I hope I never see the day where I lose that quality forever; I adore it so.

Still, my heart grieves for the experiences and people that slip through my fingers as I sail on. But, I’m starting to think the trick is to not let the pain of loss drown out the joy of what is to come. I can mourn the fact that my tomorrows will look nothing like my yesterdays and still know in my heart that I am living a life that is true to the woman that I am. At the end of the day, it is that authenticity that is worth all my love and attention.



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